In celebrating Bob Dylan’s 80th I thought of the dozens of great books I’ve read about him (and a few pretty average ones). I’ll never read them all. There are thousands. But maybe I’ve read 40-50. The Beatles have inspired the most books of any musician – apart from maybe Elvis Presley. And I’ve read heaps of Beatles books and a few about Presley. The other big one for me is Prince. Lots of books about Prince. Lots. And I’m trying to read as many of them as I can. But I reckon there’s one band that trumps all of those artists for me. It’s certainly the band I’m most fascinated to read about.
And that is Fleetwood Mac.
I have read a bunch of books about Fleetwood Mac. And I’m always excited when there’s a new one. Always.
There are old ones for me to catch up on. I haven’t read them all. But one day…
Because you’ve gotta have goals.
The music of Fleetwood Mac – and I’m talking about all versions of the band here, early blues band, strange R’n’B and adult-oriented pop band (their early 70s work is fascinating) and then of course the stadium years following Rumours – is some of my favourite music in this world.
I love Fleetwood Mac so much I listen to the albums you either don’t know about or have been told to avoid. Wrong. There are no bad Fleetwood Mac albums. (Even the crap ones are great!)
And the thing that really got me hooked on Fleetwood Mac was this wonderful documentary made in the late 80s called Fleetwood Mac at 21. At that point the band was celebrating its 21st birthday.
They’ve recently celebrated the half century and I was at the tour when Neil Finn was super-sub. It was brilliant. My second time seeing the group.
The first book I read about the band was Mick Fleetwood’s autobiography; the first volume – now republished/updated. The second was a biography about Peter Green (R.I.P). It’s hard to remember what came next…
Everyone knows about The Soap Opera of Fleetwood Mac – the band’s interpersonal relationships are legendary, inspiring their best songs and baffling that some version of the band could stay together. There are a lot of other crazy things about the band – the fact that it’s named after its founding members, the rhythm section. They’re the only two to perform on every album.
And you watch any footage of Lindsey and Stevie – or the first time I saw the band it was the quartet version (The Rumours line-up minus Christine McVie) – and you notice them singing the songs at each other. Sometimes tender, still. Often barbed. A look. A mood. The way Stevie turns her back to stand with eyes only for Lindsey during one of his songs or blanks him entirely during one of hers. It’s pantomime. It’s drama. It’s wonderful. And it wouldn’t mean anything to me if the music itself wasn’t extraordinary. Think of the song Gypsy. It’s her best lyric married to his best guitar solo. Even when their personal relationship couldn’t work they found ways to ensure their musical relationship was able to function fully.
Lindsey Buckingham is simply one of the greatest guitarists in the world. After a few tries at replacing the band’s other greatest guitarist in the world they found Lindsey. And his sound defined the band’s 70s and 80s hits.
I’ve read books about the making of specific albums, I’ve read authorised and unauthorised biographies of the band and individual members, memoirs from past players. If there’s a book out there about Fleetwood Mac my aim is to find it. And then read it. Since that’s what you do with books.
So, all of this is like the intro to The Chain. We’ve been in the “Listen to the wind blow” part of the newsletter. We’re about to get to John McVie’s bass solo…
I’ve not been able to find this on Kindle, nor in the library. It’s not in any store I’ve visited in Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, Christchurch or Auckland in the last year or so. There was that pesky little lockdown in there that threw me off the scent for a while.
So whilst it’s not a brand-new book – it’s now brand new to me. And it features the behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the band’s greatest album. My favourite. Tusk.
The Tusk album has been with me my whole life. It’s one of my earliest musical memories.
If you buy a Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits/Best Of compilation you’ll probably only get two songs from Tusk, maybe three. If you see the band play live now they’ll possibly only play the title track – maybe one more tune from it.
Tusk was a weird flop. It still did well. But it cost a lot to make, the band was fully in its Cocaine Years. And the madness of the Rumours touring, the success of that album and the expectations placed on a group of people that were sometimes barely talking to each other resulted in the Tusk record. It was Lindsey’s instigation. He wanted to flip-flop. He didn’t want to make another album like Rumours so instead he made something almost quite punk-rock in its way. And it’s often best thought of as a Buckingham solo album with some assists from Stevie and Christine – and the rhythm section from time to time.
This is the album that you can listen to even if you’re sure you’ve never liked Fleetwood Mac. It’s also the most rewarding one if you are a fan. Well, that’s my read on it.
I’m about to take on the producer’s read on it. Yes, Get Tusked was written by the album’s producer and engineer Ken Caillat. He worked on the records either side of it (Rumours and Mirage) so he saw the band in all its royal madness.
If anyone tells you they want to write, you tell them they need to read. If anyone tells you they are a writer, you ask them what books they read. Reading is writing. It is a crucial component.
I’ve written about Fleetwood Mac more than I’ve written about any other musical act – with the possible exceptions of some of the names at the top (certainly Prince and Dylan would give a good run, maybe The Beatles too). But as soon as I thought about Tusk and its impact on my life I wrote a poem. It’s not even the only poem I’ve written about Fleetwood Mac!
I’ve also talked about the band for a radio feature on RNZ. And written about them heaps.
One of the most-read articles at my Off The Tracks site is The Sad Story of Bob Welch. I believe he was the band’s most undervalued player.
Me and Fleetwood Mac. It’s an obsession.
And now that obsession gets to continue. I’m about to Get Tusked big time!